“Canned meat” is a phrase that, for many, can have a distinctly unpalatable ring, like “soggy tortilla” or “cold french fry.” Depending on your upbringing, it may also be a preservation process reserved solely for tuna, salmon, and the occasional container of spam.
That knee jerk distrust of canned protein is regrettable, though, considering the value that shelf-stable meat can bring to the table. It’s also reflective of a broader wariness toward canned protein that has existed in the United States for at least a century. Mentions of the common aversion can even be found in nutritional and culinary books from the 1920s, like The American Home Diet by Elmer Verner McCollum and Nina Simmonds. Given the chance, canned meat can be a fantastic addition to the pantry. A can of chicken, when used correctly, can save significant amounts of time and energy when cooking feels too difficult.
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When picking out cans, brand doesn’t matter so much. Storebrand varieties are my go-to, but Hormel is a proven winner. Paying attention to the contents is much more important. Meat packed in water, for example, has more versatility. It also is generally more visually appealing than meat packed in oil or gravy.
Canned meat is best used as a substitution in recipes where shredded or slow cooked meats shine to begin with; finger foods, dips, and a number of other lunchtime staples especially benefit from a canned boost. Here are seven food categories you should consider busting out the can opener for:
Salads are perhaps one of the most obvious applications for canned meat, but it’s a good starting point. Shredded chicken and pork especially serve as quality, cost-effective additions. A tin can even provide the prime ingredient for standout potluck dishes, like these lemon-dill chicken salad-stuffed eggs.
Pick out a Progresso and a tinned meat of your choice; stir to combine. If you’re looking for something more involved, use a can of shredded chicken into this chicken tortilla soup.
Boxed chicken alfredo will never be the same once you enhance it with a can. Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can use canned roast beef with gravy as a shortcut for this shredded beef and mushroom ragu.
Slap some pre-made pie dough into a personal-sized tin and spoon in some meat and veggies. Voila: a budget pot pie that blows frozen versions out of the water. For a family sized portion, try this casserole-style beef pot pie.
Omelets and Scrambles
When in doubt, try adding an egg. Use a canned meat of your choice in combination with any veggies or cheeses your would normally put in omelets or scrambles. Pulled pork would go well in this southwestern omelet, for example.
Tacos, burritos, quesadillas
Basically, any dish where a tortilla is normally involved is a good fit. These pulled pork nachos are a great opportunity for a canned substitution.